Thursday, 31 January 2013

Photographing miniatures part 2 - Controlling light

[Leaving today's post a little late due to visitors :D However, definitely not going to break the streak, so....]

Photography. The word comes from two Greek roots:
photo- of or related to light; 
-graphy [...] a process or form of drawing, writing, representing, recording, describing, etc.,or an art or science concerned with such a process.
If you like, what we're talking about, then, is drawing or recording with light. And indeed, the key thing about taking a photo is controlling how much light reaches the film (or in this day and age, the camera sensor), in order for it to receive the amount of light it needs to record an image. Point and shoot cameras make this surprisingly easy by virtue of making some clever compromises, but it helps to understand the nature of the problem to use a point and shoot, or a (D)SLR to best effect. There are four major parameters you can control to a greater or lesser extent while taking a picture, depending on your camera. The art lies in working out which ones you can compromise on and still get what you want.

At a very simple level, a camera consists of a lens and a shutter that opens for a set amount of time to a given width of opening to allow light on to a film or film equivalent. The things you get to control within the camera are the time the shutter is open for (the shutter speed), the size of the opening (the aperture) and how responsive the film is to light (the film speed or ISO rating). The first two together are called the exposure.

Shutter speed

The longer the shutter is open, obviously, the more light will reach the film. [Oh, screw this. It's a digital world. You know I mean sensor, so let's use the word!] Easy enough, but the compromise is that the longer you leave the shutter open, the more prone you are to camera shake. However... we're not photographing something that moves, so there are some easy solutions to this (like, say, tripods!) which I'll cover in a later post.


This one's a bit cleverer: the bigger the opening, the more light gets through, obviously enough: equally obviously, I hope, you can trade off aperture against shutter speed - the bigger the opening, the more light, so you can get away with a shorter shutter for the same effective exposure (amount of light).

However, it's not that simple. Precisely why I'll leave for another post, but in a nutshell, the wider the aperture, the narrower the range of distance that's in focus (the depth of field). So your trade off is wide aperture, lots of light, half your ranks of figures (in extreme cases, half your figure!) is out of focus (in extreme cases, half your figure!); narrow aperture, less light, but your ranks of figures are all in focus.

ISO Rating

This is pretty simple. Back in the days of film, some films were more sensitive to light than others, by design, so you could go for a 'faster' film, one more sensitive to light, to shoot in darker environments. In these days of digital cameras, the sensor itself can be set to a different ISO rating for each shot. The tradeoff is that the higher the ISO rating, the more sensitive the film is, but the more prone the image is to appear 'noisy' or 'grainy'.

Next time, we'll put some numbers on these, and explain how they interact, and maybe a little of how point and shoot and phone cameras get round the problems.

Oh... the fourth thing you can change? The actual amount of light on the scene you're photographing! :D But that's a whole other story.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Battle Report - 28 Jan 2013 - Dux Britanniarum

Andy's gorgeous wagon train.
You know how it goes by now - place terrain, roll for the scenario. I won the roll off, and got to place two big woods and a hill down the middle of the table, rather hoping I'd roll for something that made them an impendiment to Andy's forces. It sort of worked: the wagon train scenario puts the British levy in a fort at one end of the table and the rest escorting wagons from the other end of the table. The Saxons get to start on one side, but the Britons get d3 moves first, before they find out which side the Saxons come on.

"If you go down to the woods today..."
I worried a bit, because it seemed I could lose out quite badly, as there was a tempting gap between the trees for Andy to duck through if he rolled well enough and then I had a 50/50 chance of winding up the wrong side. As it turned out, he only got two turns, and I wound up on the 2' of table edge to the right of his starting position, with some of his force the wrong side of the slow moving wagon train.

Next roll, how many groups come on in my first move. 

One. Phooey.

My hearthguard (wolf banner) about to turn onto a
very tempting flank.
Oh well. Better be the hearthguard, then. Aelfric, Godric and half a dozen elites activated quite late in the turn, advanced just enough to be intimidating. Andy turned his warriors and levy to face, leaving a gap between them and a patch of rocky ground that was just wide enough for me, without requiring me to pass through their zone of control. So I took it, rolled well, and made it to the middle wagon, who, wisely deciding that a tall Saxon with his spear levelled at you is always right, decided he'd go my way. 

Next turn my Lord's card came up early, and the unit that just nipped through the gap was behind the flank of that formation of warriors and levy... and I had a Carpe Diem card, which means it's a flank attack. For once, my dice didn't desert me, and one of the two groups... I think the best word is disintegrated. [As an aside: I think we messed up the rules a bit here, so will be asking the Oracle!]

My hearthguard leg it.
Things got a bit interesting about then - I managed to deploy the rest of my groups, and then Andy's Lord peeled off a unit of hearthguard off his big formation and waded in on my elites, with a decent hand. Two rounds of combat and half my hearthguard (and my Lord and his champion) were headed for the edge of the table. Fortunately, they didn't make it all the way there, before turning to flee to a somewhat further away friendly edge.

Meanwhile, Andy had backed his remaining unit away from the big group of hearthguard and warriors threatening it. So Ecgwine and a unit of warriors decided to follow, after a glance over their shoulders to where Maximus Minimus was making a good legionary pace out of the fort. The resulting scrap in the wood forced the Britons back a bit further. 

Next up, or close to it, I get to activate Aelfric, my Lord, who's obviously got to part company from the fleeing heartguard. Not that it matters, since he's got three activations. So. Activation one. Draw a card, just because I'm one short and it might be useful. (It isn't.) Activation two: realise I'm well within command radius of the big block of warriors and remaining hearthguard facing off the British hearthguard. Order them in!

Andy has an Evade card, so his hearthguard scoot backwards out of the fight, leaving me to wade in on the rest of the British. My dice almost let me down in the first round, but finally Andy's (for once) desert him, he loses the fight by 3 kills and falls back.

Ecgwine (on the right) has just pushed through the woods
and cleared out another unit of Britons.
Oh - nearly forgot - activation three, move Aelfric and Godric away from the unit that's lost its amphora!

Ecgwine follows up through the woods, hits the retreating unit again. It loses its amphora. Somewhere not long after that, Andy, perhaps wisely, decides to call it a day. I, being well aware that I'm here for the wagons, not to kill British (though I have killed quite a few), elect to let him.

A look at the table layout, with the fort at the top,
and the Saxons original deployment edge bottom right.
End result, a +4 win to me. A Thief's Hoard of loot, a month's uncontested raiding and two more figures to one of my units of warriors. Can't be bad.

As ever, thanks to Andy for a great game, and equal thanks to the guys at Lard Island for producing a brilliant set of rules.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

"To Britain's Shores" - Chapter 6 - The Baggage Train

"D'you hear that?"

Odin's balls, but that lass has keen ears. We're flat on our faces on the edge of a wood near one of the Britons' forts, me, Aelfric, Edgwine, Lavinia, and half a dozen of the hearthguard, and behind us further back in the woods are Beornwulf and the rest of the lads. I'm damned if I can hear anything, and equally I'll be damned if I let her know that. "Aye. Can't make out what it is, though," I lie.

She frowns, a crease between dark brows. "Sounds like a wagon. More than one." 

Ecgwine tilts his head, listening, nods. "Aye." 

Blasted kids. Aelfric works his way back a little deeper into the woods. "We'll take them, if they're light enough guarded. And remember, we're here for the gold, not the killing." 

I grin at him, "This time."

We come running out of the woods towards the Britons, yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs. There's a moment when I glance over my shoulder and realise that the rest of the lads are a bit further behind than I'd really like, but Aelfric grabs my arm, points to the gap between the nearest group of Britons and a patch of bare rocky ground: "Go for the wagons!" And he's off, the rest of us hard on his heels, cries of "Odin! Odin and the Young Wolf!" as we barrel past the startled bunch of British warriors, who I notice are headed up by that Geraint we had as hearthguest a while back.  

The drover of the middle wagon stares, wide-eyed at me and the spear I have levelled at him. "That way..." I jerk my thumb over my shoulder, back where we just came from. He swallows, nods repeatedly and rapidly, and tugs on the lead rope. The oxen hauling the cart don't know or care about allegiance: they just go where he leads, and self-preservation wins out over loyalty. 

"On me. Charge!" Aelfric again, turning to our right, where, joy of joys, Geraint has formed up his men to face Beornwulf and most of the rest of the lads. Caught between Fenris and and the Midgard serpent, he is: we're behind his flank, and their wall of shields is a cumbersome and slow thing to turn. It's swift and bloody, half his men gone in next to no time. About then, though, their big Lord orders his personal guard up and into us. They fight hard, no doubt about that: I manage to lay a blade on him, but it's clear after a moment or two they have the beating of us, and we fall back. 

I have to say, Aelfric looks remarkably little bothered by that, or by the couple of arrows from Lavinia and her little band that whistle past a shade closer than I'm comfortable with. He grins at me, savage like the wolf they've named him for, nods at the scattered few lads from our group running for the safety of the woods. "Never mind them. We've got this." Voice raised. "Beornwulf! NOW!" 

Beyond Beornwulf I can see Ecgwine urging a group of warriors into the woods after some of the Britons, and beyond that their fort, and their little man leading a bunch of their levy towards us. Too little. too late. The thought amuses me, and Aelfric's laughter is infectious: we've done our bit, and watch as Beornwulf at the head of a dozen screaming warriors and the rest of our hearthguard charge in. Their Lord's guard back away, and our lads crash into what's left of Geraint's force. It's a messy, protracted scrap: Aelfric, damn him, just leans on his spear and watches, apparently unconcerned, just nods once as the Britons finally waver and withdraw. Another glance at me, and an almost boyish grin. "Got them now."

He's still grinning back at Wulfhere's steading, and when we're done unloading the loot, he raps his spear on the dais, thrice, hard. 


"This..." A handful of gold and silver, held up for them all to see. "This was what we came for. British gold. Caesar's gold." That savage smile. "Our gold." He tosses that handful to Theobald. reaches for another. "They'll be sorely hurt. We raid again, while they lick their wounds. But then...." Another handful of gold to another of the hearthguard, "Then we bring them to battle. Then, we take their lands!"

The shout goes up, as he scatters gold, even-handed, amid the rest of the hearthguard, and, I notice, tosses a purse to the scop Oswulf. "Aelfric! Aelfric! Young Wolf!" And then, first one, then another, till every throat raises the same chant. "Drohtin! Drohtin!" Warlord, they name him. 

I look across at Wulfhere the Red, sat on his great chair, impassive, that huge axe he favours across his knees. And the old fox just nods at me, approving, perhaps, as the chant rings in the beams and rafters of his hall. "Drohtin! Drohtin!" 

He's seen this day coming. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Photographing miniatures part 1 - starting at the end

I confess that I'm usually pretty lazy about this - point the iPhone at the figures, cross fingers, click. The problems with this approach are many:  the iPhone's a pretty awesome camera, but it is fixed aperture and autofocus, which means you do have to rely on its own idea of what constitutes a good photo and good lighting. It's surprising what you can pull off doing this, but there are better ways, especially given a basic understanding of a few core principles of photography, even a fairly basic camera, and a small outlay in extras.

Hohum. You know, I've got to here, and realised this is another series in the offing, since I do actually have a pretty decent grasp of the theory of photography. Oh well, it was probably inevitable, since at least one of my series is about to finish. (Really, it is. What do you mean you don't believe me? :D)

Ah well. Never mind, It's not like I was short on posts.

So. By way of an introduction, here's what I used to take the photo in yesterday's post. Essentially, it was a cheap and cheerful light box tent from Amazon, along with a Canon DSLR (although for this approach a decent compact with flash would have done). The whole thing folds up (with a little effort and remembering how) into a bag the size of a tea plate, and unfolds to a white cube about 50cm on a side.

The inside of the cube has Velcro fixers for attaching various colour backgrounds, which also come with the kit, and a front panel with a slit in it through which you can poke the camera lens. You might think, "why bother, when I can just leave the front open?"

Ah, well...

The nice thing about the box is it lets light in, and also diffuses it: the trick I pulled for the Judge Dredd figures was to poke the front of the lens through the slot, but leave the flash outside so the translucent material diffuses it and makes it less harsh.

Standard of painting notwithstanding (hey, I don't claim to be any good at THAT!), I think you'll agree that the photo's an improvement on the 'iPhone on the kitchen table' approach. Of course, the bad news is that it shows up everything you missed, and that's compounded by the fact that the flash is still strong enough, even though it's diffused, to blast through thinner (and thus not completely opaque) layers of paint and generate slight reflections off the underlying metal. Even if they look opaque under normal light, it's surprising what a strong flash or bright daylight work lamp shows up.

Next time (here we go again! told you it would be a series!) we'll discuss light, and how you can make sure the camera gets enough.

[And no, this wasn't the announcement either :D]

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Judge Dredd

Ok - I confess: I am in fact an unrepentant Judge Dredd - and particularly Judge Anderson - fan, to the extent of having written not one but two songs inspired by her, and having most of the original Titan graphic novels sitting on my bookshelf.

I'm a firm believer that comics can be as moving and powerful a medium as any other, and I will still hold up one particular Judge Anderson (well, actually mostly Judge Corey) story as an example. If you were a fan back in the day, and have a copy of the 2000AD Summer Special 1989, you'll know what I'm talking about - it's a short but stunningly powerful piece, not even in colour, called "Leviathan's Farewell'. Alan Grant was reportedly very annoyed that it was relegated to a one-off magazine that a lot of people missed. Fortunately, it's reprinted in Judge Anderson: The Psi Files 01, and I strongly recommend you go buy it just for that, even if that one story is the only hole in your collection. Several Anderson stories since reference back to it, and it's a necessary part of the canon, as well as being a stupendous piece of writing.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you how this was taken. 

Bearing that in mind, then, it wasn't exactly difficult for Rob to talk me into a game of the Moongoose Publishing game. And it was probably inevitable that shortly after that my Paypal account would have a nasty accident.

Here we have a bunch of Mongoose Judges, plus the Wargames Foundry Judge Dredd and Judge Karryn, and a Heresy Miniatures figure as a Wally Squad judge. Slight variation on my usual - these were undercoated in Humbrol gloss French Blue, and the basing is Javis grey ballast chippings with a wash of leftover Citadel black ink. And of course, these aren't historical miniatures, so aren't eligible for Curt's contest :D

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A horse of a different colour... namely, grey plastic.

Twenty four Wargames Factory Persian horses, to be specific, ready to be coaxed into being some of what's looking like a rather large Parthian horde.

I am contractually obligated to give Curt first dibs on the photos once I'm done painting, but these should be the horses for the final part of the 'Horse of a different colour' series!

No, this is NOT the big announcement I was referring to.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Two year anniversary

It's exactly two years since I started this blog! Scary thought, isn't it? I kind of hoped it would get this far, but I'm rather pleasantly surprised with how far it has got.

Here are some stats:

Total published posts: 238
Total pageviews: 58040+ at the time of writing. Check over there :D ------->
Average time between posts: 3 days
Longest unbroken daily posting streak: - 40 days and counting (17 Dec 2012 - today)
Most popular post: 1007 views - Maelstrom Games
Most popular day: 5 Nov 2012 (that Maelstrom post got linked a lot!)
Busiest month: November 2012 (5857), but this month should beat it - November was also the best month for new visitors
Best referrer: this TMP post (linking to the Horse Of A Different Colour series)
Best blogger referrer: David Dorward
Most popular search string: "palomino horse" (interesting)
Comments: 501 (and counting)
Most prolific commenter: hard to be sure, but my money's on Sidney Roundwood
Most commented post: I will buy nothing more from Games Workshop
Most popular tag: battle report
Most popular ruleset: Warhammer Ancient Battles (based on tags)
Different rulesets reported on: 14
Most linked site: Peterborough Wargames Club
Most linked blogger: Andy Hawes

Watch this space (I know, I say that a lot) for an exciting announcement related to the future of this blog - possibly on Monday, but that depends on how much the wife has for me to do this weekend!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sedition Wars: Battle For Alabaster - initial unboxing

My swag (:D) from the Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster Kickstarter arrived yesterday. They should have arrived the day before, but I wasn't in, and the UPS guy (who clearly HAS taken the hint (or, alternatively, heeded a rollocking from his boss)) left a card. I got the delivery redirected to work, and here they are.

As I have piles of historical stuff to paint for Curt's painting challenge, terrain work coming out of my ears, and a small quantity of Judge Dredd minis that also arrived, I'm resisting the temptation to do anything more than open the box, cursorily check the contents and put it aside for now. I will note that the components DO look very nice and well made :D

Without further ado:
The box :D
The box inside the box. There's another
box under it with the Kickstarter extras
in it
Rulebook, which I probably will take out for a read :D
Counters, and a large stack of gameboards
Actual box contents - lots of counters,
shedloads of minis, dice, cards, tokens.
Board game paradise.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Into The Woods - part 6 - another slight digression

This whole building woods lark is a process of continual improvement. I'm a little disappointed with how well the magnetic sheet I was using holds, or rather doesn't, the 2p-based trees. Most of you, on reading the solution, are no doubt going to go 'well, duh, Mike...', but I'm a slow learner, so...

I recently picked up some Battlefront M10 tank destroyers for my IABSM US force, and happened to notice they come with small neodymium magnets to make the turrets removeable but robust. "Ahah", thinks I, "I wonder if anyone does any really thin ones."

Turns out they do - I found a couple of eBay sellers who do 0.5mm thick 10 or 15mm disc magnets, so I ordered about 50. They need to be thin as they're going in the 'hole' the trees go in, and there's not much depth to play with. Anyway - they turned up today, so I peeled (almost literally, they're quite strong!) half a dozen off the stack and superglued them in.

As you can see, they have quite a bit of pull!

They're not quite man enough to hold upside-down the really tall Bachmann Scale Scenics pine trees I picked up the other day, but they're certainly equal to the task of holding the weight of the wire-armatured Chinese ones I bought.

Onward! Next up, the conclusion of the horsehair trees.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Battle Report - 21 Jan 2013 - Judge Dredd

As Britain is in the grip of the world's deepest snow fall[1] that has grown men cowering in their houses[2], some folks didn't make it to club last night, including my regular partner in Dux Britanniarum crime. Instead, I joined in with a pickup game of Mongoose's 'Judge Dredd' system, run by Rob.

Yes, these are shots from the game!
Rob has some awesome scenery, and he, AndyM (not to be confused with AndyH, AndyB or AndyMac - we are somewhat swamped with Andy's at the club) and I had three short games. The system is very bloody, very quick, and manages, despite being a pretty simple set of I-Go-You-Go, opposed skill roll rules, to capture the feel of the setting very well.

Out of the three, Rob got wiped out first all three times, and my judges wound up in a shootout with Andy's Judge Cal and henchmen. The first two times I was outnumbered, and wiped out - the third was a bit better balanced as Rob had managed to off one of Andy's renegade Judges beforehand: the firefight ended with Judge Cal copping a round of high explosive from Judge Orwell's Lawgiver...

Great fun, simple, easy to pick up: great for a club night, comes with a levelling/experience system for campaigns. Also, minimal outlay, as it's a skirmish game with half a dozen at most figures a side - AND... the rules are completely free to download!

[1] exaggeration, though you wouldn't know it
[2] seriously, people? Buy some winter tyres, learn to drive on snow! Our Polish workforce here at LOVEFiLM are laughing at you.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mierce Miniatures Kickstarter

I am intrigued to note that Mierce Miniatures (owned by former Maelstrom supremo Rob Lane) have got a Kickstarter rolling for their Darklands miniatures range. I'm even more surprised to note that it has passed its first funding target with days and a lot to spare...

Even if I was interested in the figures, I personally don't think I'd touch it with the eleven-foot pole I keep for things I won't touch with a ten-foot pole.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Commenting on this (and other) blogs

I've had a couple of folks (Hi, Rich!) ask me about commenting on this blog, so I figured I'd take a moment to explain some of the methods of doing so on a typical Blogger blog.

Here's the comment screen. Unless they're a fan of spam, the blogger will at least have enabled the option in their blog settings, which gives you a bunch of options for  identifying yourself in a comment. Note that if the blog is restricted to JUST Google accounts, most of these won't work, and they can be potentially losing out on comments.

There's a bunch of options, and I'll take them in order. However, if you're on a Yahoo! group/mailing list, read to the end :D

First up is 'Google'. If you have a Google account (which means GMail, Google+ or Blogger) that's currently logged in on your browser somewhere, then you'll almost certainly find this is pre-selected and tagged with the name Google knows you by. End of problem: just comment away.

Next option? 'Livejournal'. If you select that, you'll get the popup to your right. If you have an LJ account, you can just type your LJ name in here and it'll redirect you via LJ to authenticate you.

The next two are similar. If you have a WordPress or Typepad account, i.e. your blog is actually hosted on or you have a Typepad account, you can use this option. (Note that just 'having a blog managed using WordPress' isn't enough. You actually have to have it hosted on

Next up, AIM - if you have an AOL Instant Messenger account, it pops up a very similar little form and prompts you for your AIM login - again, this'll take you to AOL to verify you're OK with this and set a cookie. This is, I suspect, a special case of the last option, which is the one several folks may want...

OpenID. This is a magic catch-all for a number of other sites that provide OpenID identity services. This is specifically useful for folks on a Yahoo! group.

If you're on (for example) the Lardies mailing list, you will have a Yahoo! login: this has associated with it an OpenID URL.

What you need to do to set this up (before you try and comment) is go to, click on "Get Started" and log in with that account. It will then take you to a page that looks a bit like the one on the left here: it's been a while since I did this for my account, and I can't remember whether it gives you an option to specify things here, but essentially what it'll give you is a URL of the form

Copy that URL, and paste it into the little form that pops up when you select OpenID for the 'Comment As' option. It'll take you to a Yahoo! webpage to confirm you want to do this, and then, bob's your Uncle. (In actual fact, it appears that all you need to type, once you've done the setup in the paragraph above, is, which is even easier!)

I've commented on this article via each of these (except the WordPress and Typepad ones, as I don't think I have either of those accounts) just to prove they work.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Heraldry 101, part 7 - an aside, and answers

Some of you are possibly wondering what I'm using to generate the example shields in the preceding articles. Well...

It's a very nice little web app by the folks at Inkwell Ideas called Coat of Arms Design Studio - it requires Java, which may mean a little downloading, since the yawning great security hole in some recent versions has stopped Apple (among others) from enabling it by default.

Once you've got it working, the free version is pretty neat - you can place almost any kind of charge from its library on any background, and then export the results. The pay version adds the ability to import images, and a few extra tweaks.

If you think you've run across Inkwell Ideas before, yes, you have - I supported their Kickstarter for their Cityographer mapping product a while back.

Which just leaves the answers to last time: if you recall I asked you to identify three partial blazons and where they came from.

  1. Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or, armed and langued azure. - is, of course, the Royal Arms of England
  2. Or, a lion rampant gules armed and langued azure... - is the lion on the arms of Scotland
  3. Gules, a bear erect argent, muzzled of the first, collared and chained or... - is the bear (without its ragged staff) from the arms of Warwick.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Book review - "An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England"

Among the many things I've been ingtrigued by, living where I do and playing Dux Britanniarum and other Dark Ages games, is what the landscape actually looked like in the Dark Ages. Peterborough is right on the edge of the fens - witness such places as Flag Fen, and further east, Ely, with its cathedral known as the Ship of the Fens. A lot of this area, and indeed a fair bit of Lincolnshire, was wholly or partially underwater.

Hence, when I spotted a copy of An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England (which does appear to be somewhat rare) for under £30, I snapped it up.

I have to say, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not a gripping read, but then this kind of book isn't one you keep around to while away the hours with a ripping yarn! It's actually a little out of period for Dux B, as it starts around 700 AD, but it is though, full of interesting and in some cases fascinating maps. It's clear, for example, from the maps of Lincolnshire's drainage, that I need to build a couple of marsh/fen boards (which I was kind of planning on anyway, but...)

I guess this book comes under 'you'll know if you need a copy'. I find it fascinating.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Into The Woods - part 5 - a slight digression

Over Christmas, I grabbed some trees off eBay, on the 'for that price, it's worth a punt" theory.

They're from an eBay seller called everestmodel, who is based in China: they have 99.9% positive feedback in the 10s of thousands, and shipping time is 2-3 weeks.

For 20 quid and change, I picked up 16 6" high deciduous trees, which arrived today. They're clump foliage, pretty securely attached to a twisted wire armature: they do shed a bit, but not as much as some. And, in fact, they are pretty damn decent, all things considered. They will need some form of roots/base, but that shouldn't be too hard, and a thickish coat of something grey/brown to hide the wire twists (although from wargames distance you could get by without), but otherwise? Me like, and they're a good variation on the ones I've been making.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

UPS - a rant

Something of a digression, but...

I worked from home today to accept several Amazon deliveries (partly because my home server killed its power supply on Monday). Imagine my not inconsiderable lack of amusement when the doorbell rings, and I go to answer it, to find...

  • An Amazon parcel on the step, in full view, on a public road. 
  • A UPS van parked at the bus stop 20 yards away with the driver just getting in and moving off.

I was sufficiently speechless, I didn't even yell at him. I did, however, tweet @UPS
@ups just rang bell and left parcel on step in full view of bus stop/main rd, not waiting for reply. Lucky I was in. He didn't check.
I got a reply:
@fleetfootmike Not good! Please email us your tracking + contact information to ^MN @UPS
So I did, as requested, and got the following:
Thank you for reaching out to us for assistance with this issue. I do see that with this particular package the shipper did not request that we require a signature for delivery. For this reason at the driver’s discretion the package can be left. If you have further concerns please let us know.
My reply:
Left, maybe - but he made NO effort to conceal it, and frankly I'm appalled that he or apparently you consider the approach he took to be a satisfactory or responsible one with a *large* parcel clearly labelled Amazon, on a front doorstep clearly visible to the passing public.
I expect ringing the doorbell and running away from bored teenagers, not UPS staff.
To give them their due, I did get a reply:
I can definitely report that this is not a safe location and that the driver should not be leaving the package in the public view. Please provide your phone number so I can ensure the management at your local delivery center follows up with you. 
Well, duh. "not a safe location". 2' from the pavement, in full view, 20 yards from a bus stop. I'll say.

I did. They did. It wasn't a very intelligible phone call (due to the non-native accent) but basically the gist of it was that the driver would get specific instructions not to leave stuff on my doorstep,

I've just sent the following to my support contact:
Thank you for arranging that. The call caught me with my hands full and went to voicemail, which, usefully, did allow me to listen it several times to understand the staff member's accent.
However, all she appears to have done is promised to instruct the driver not to leave stuff on *my* doorstep. Which is all well and good, but the point of my raising this issue was not just for myself, but to flag the fact that you have a driver who is, to my mind, not doing his job properly, and being extremely careless with other people's property. How many other parcels were left on doorsteps this morning? Do you really consider that adequate?
Hrmph, as they say.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Hammerhead 2013

We will be taking a game to Hammerhead this year, once again. It'll be another of our quirky, cheap-as-chips, rules-on-a-single-sheet-of-A4, fun participation games with a twist...

Unfortunately, that's all I can tell you about it, as on directions from the President of the United States, your mission will be most secret and classif


14£$%^&*i@£$% 10022013 10022103 agent kelham 10022013 | target location 36.10.30N115.8.11W | unusual military activity observed | photograph in dropbox 1762764 + hammerhead + ISO/IEC 10918-1 | kelham out £$%^%$%&&^% 

Hrm. Sorry about that. I've been having some server problems. Dunno where that came from.

Anyway - hope to see folks at Hammerhead - look for the game (you should find it quite hard to miss!) and I'll be around in a blue club polo shirt.

Monday, 14 January 2013

"Vive L'Empereur" take 2

I'm chuffed to note that Gavin is running another of his computer-moderated Penninsular campaigns starting this week. I'm... once again... running some of the French, though with a good few more players from round the wargaming world this time, I only get to run one (large) Corps, not two, and hopefully I'm not the CinC!

As before, since the computer-moderated aspect imposes a certain measure of secrecy, I'll be blogging in a somewhat delayed fashion.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Book Review - "Second World War Infantry Tactics", Stephen Bull

I figured, given I'm hoping to play a fair bit of IABSM and possibly Troops, Weapons and Tactics and/or the new Chain of Command rules from the Lardies, that I ought to mug up a bit on proper tactics for WW2 infantry.

So, I had a bit of a trawl through Amazon, rejected a couple of Ospreys (which turned out to be by the same author) and picked up Second World War Infantry Tactics: The European Theatre. It's an excellent mix of well-written and well-researched analysis, along with a bunch of reproduced diagrams from manuals of the period. I suspect I'm going to have to read it several more times for all the useful information to sink in, but - to summarise - excellent book. Buy it, if you're going to play a WW2 company- or lower- level ruleset where the period tactics actually matter.

And let's face it. Why wouldn't you?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Into The Woods - part 4 - more ways of sticking foliage

Just one, in this article, in fact. This is partly thanks to Gavin, who uses a similar method for his excellent trees.

Stage one. Find some rubberised horsehair. You can either find a supplier of furnishing materials who will supply you with a massive sheet that's bigger than you might ever possibly need, or you can do what I did, which is to find a supplier of model scenic stuff who is prepared to sell you a smaller bit for more per unit area but less in total. And then, like me, you can forget who you bought it from so you can't do them the courtesy of a link. [It took me 20 mins of searching emails to find out that I'd bought this from 4D Models!]

It's odd stuff - it smells of rubber (given the name, this is hardly surprising), it's coarse-feeling, a little stiff, and in its raw form is quite dense (it's designed as an upholstery-stuffing material).

What you then do is rip off little hunks of the rubberised horsehair, and pull them out so they're a fine mesh of strands, and then affix them to (by sort of weaving around the branches of) your preferred tree armature (me? still using Woodland Scenics).

The end result is a tree with a core of plastic branches with a lacy mesh of rubberised horsehair around it.

Next, you take a nice big empty ice-cream tub and a big jar of coarse-ish flock of whatever colour takes your fancy, and spread out some newspaper, 'cause this next bit could get a little messy. Pour the flock into the tub, and then go find your big can of unscented hairspray.

As I mentioned before, this stuff is sticky. Take your tree armature, and liberally (and I mean liberally) spray it with hairspray. Dip the armature in the tub of flock, shake off the excess. Repeat. At least twice more. Certainly keep going with hairspray then flock until you're happy with how the tree looks.

One very important note: do not, at this point, do as I did and drop the tree. The hairspray is only a fairly tenuous hold, and you will get a fair bit of slightly tacky flock all over your jeans and floor. Don't do this. :D

Eventually, you'll wind up with something that looks like a tree. In fact, it looks better than the ones made with coarser clump foliage, in my book.

The next (and penultimate) stage is to liberally (again, I really do mean this) spray the end result with slightly dilute PVA until every bit of the foliage is coated, and put the tree someplace to dry for a good long time. The glue I used was Treemendus Scenefix Glue, which comes with its own spray atomiser, and unlike the Woodland Scenics one, seems to work. One tip though - when you're done, remove the spray head, hold the end of the tube in some running hot water and spray through for a while, so the drying glue doesn't clog up the works. (By the way, Treemendus are now promoted to my links sidebar for being fantastic - not only do they produce a PVA spray that works, they also make the awesome forest floor scatter I use.)

This is where I am at the moment. The final stage is to give it a bit of a haircut where (as you can see) some of the horsehair strands have got a bit straggly, but I'm going for patience here and leaving it to dry for at least a day. But I hope you can see at this point what the end result is going to come out like.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Probability for Wargamers 7 - the myth of averages and rolling 3 dice

OK - let's move on to rolling 3d6. The most common thing I find myself using this for is movement in IABSM and/or Dux Brit. First question, then: what's the average roll on 3d6?

Easy enough to work out - it's three times the average roll on 1d6. Given an unloaded d6 rolled enough times, you'd expect an even spread of each number, so the average roll would be (1+2+3+4+5+6) / 6, which works out at 21/6, or 3 1/2. Which is probably one of the first stats about dice a lot of people learn. Cool: so, the average of 2d6 is therefore 7, and for 3d6 it's 10 1/2.

Fantastic, I hear you say. So if I'm 10" away from that unit I want to charge in Dux Brit, on average I'll make it.

Well.... yyyyyeeeessss.....

But let's look at the odds in more detail. I'm not about to find enough dice to do a pretty picture, so you'll have to make do with a table. the construction of which is left as (that phrase again) an exercise for the statistically-inclined reader:

# ways
Odds of >=

Digest that table, and let's take an example. Supposing you command a platoon in IABSM that's just activated: Another platoon has poured fire on a German MG42 in a defensive position, which has already had its actions and taken a fair bit of shock from your supporting fire, and some elements of your platoon are poised just over 10" out of close assault range. Next turn, the MG team is probably going to get three chances to shoot at you if you fail the assault (one or more of its own card, a Big Man and the Bonus MG Fire card), and you may get two (the platoon, and the platoon's Big Man if he's still in range).

Do you charge in? C'mon - the average distance you're going to roll is less than you have to move...

...but the odds on rolling 11" or more is ONLY 50%. Which gives you a 50% chance of being stuck in the open in front of an MG42 (plus whatever else is supporting it) that has a better chance than you of activating first next turn.

Do you charge in?

What odds would you like before you're comfortable giving that order? 90%+?
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